Varieties of what became Judeo-Spanish (now widely known as Ladino) were once spoken by Sephardim, the Jews of Spain — approximately 100,000-175,000 of whom were expelled from Spain in 1492. While some went to Portugal and others to Morocco, the vast majority went to the Ottoman Empire, maintaining and developing their distinctive language for over 500 years.
By the early 20th century, with the arrival of tens of thousands of speakers from cities such as Salonica, Istanbul, and Izmir, New York had become one of the language’s global centers. Other Ladino-speaking communities developed elsewhere in the US, including Seattle and Los Angeles, though younger generations switched to English.
Endangered everywhere today, Ladino nonetheless has a substantial legacy and a vital presence in New York. It was the language of neighborhoods from Lower East Side to the Bronx to the New Lots area of Brooklyn, playing a significant role in daily life and at times in the numerous Sephardic synagogues in those areas. The city has also been home to large-scale Ladino-language journalism (most famously, La Vara), a theater troupe (The Ladino Players), and Ladino classes. Today, annual events like the Celebration of Judeo-Spanish in New York and the International Ladino Day are bringing together speakers, students, and a growing number of Sephardim and non-Sephardim interested in the language.
In 12 episodes/interviews totaling around 4 hours, ELA’s Ladino New York project, part of a larger Jewish Languages inititive, tells the stories of those speak the language or remember the language and its major role in the history and future of Jewish New York.
A full list of all the episodes is here on YouTube — enjoy and spread the word!